Leadership Transition

They won’t hear the ‘why’ until you tell them the ‘what’.

WhatLeaders making significant structural changes due to taking on a new role or as a response to business pressures, need to communicate extremely well if they want to be successful. To quote a leader from my research you need to ‘kill them with communication and love’ in order to get your change agenda moving.

Recent research shows that one of the challenges for leaders, which is even more prevalent at very senior levels, is that they focus on the ‘why’ of the change and not the ‘what’. The ‘why’ the organisation needs to change is often very compelling and leaders feel that when they explain it to the members of the organisation that they will see it clearly and this will lay the ground work for selling in the detailed changes needed.

The ‘what’ for the people is “what is going to happen to my role” and this is more important to them than the ‘why’ for change.  People won’t hear the ‘why’ message until the leader explains the “what happens to my role’ message.

So this plays out as frustration from the leader as she/he continues to communicate the bigger picture, the compelling ‘why’, only to get blockages and push back from the organisation. The challenge is that in some cases the “what’ hasn’t been completely decided yet and can depend on how the organisation and the market responds to the changes.

This is why it is tough to navigate an organisation through significant change. If you want to be successful and you want the people in the organisation to support you or ‘come with you’, then you need to tell them “what’ before they will truly listen to the ‘why’.

While this is obvious (especially in reading it laid out like this), it can be a blindspot and blindspots are called that for a reason. It is easy to get caught up with the high level especially if it is your job to design the change and forget this simple point.

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